In a historic decision, the Shani Shingnapur temple authorities debunked its 400-year-old tradition, allowing women devotees to enter the inner sanctum of the temple to offer prayers.
Significantly, lifting of all gender barriers for access to the core area came on the auspicious occasion of "Gudi Padwa", marking New Year by people across Maharashtra.
According to ANI, Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai along with a group of women entered and prayed inside inner sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple for the first time in 400 years.
— ANI (@ANI_news) April 8, 2016
Earlier on Friday, about 250 residents of Shingnapur village thronged the temple premises and barged into the inner sanctum breaking through the double barricades put up by the trustees around the sanctum, to offer 'Jal Pooja' on the occasion of Gudi Padwa, the Hindu New Year. Shortly thereafter, the temple authorities announced the decision of allowing women into the inner sanctum.
Sayaram Bankar, a trustee of Shani Shingnapur temple, said the trustees held a meeting on Friday and decided to facilitate unrestricted entry to all devotees including men and women, in keeping with the high court directive.
"We will welcome (Bhoomata Brigade leader) Trupti Desai also if she comes for darshan," he said, referring to the campaign spearheaded by the outfit for breaking the tradition followed by the Lord Saturn shrine.
Temple trust spokesman Haridas Gaywale also said, "The trust has at the meeting decided there will not be any discrimination and today all parts of Shani temple are open for all."
Hailing the decision taken by the temple authorities, Trupti Desai, leader of Bhumata Brigade — an activist group that has led the protest for entry, told CNN-IBN: “We welcome the decision taken by the trust. It's a victory for women. This is a great achievement against gender inequality.”
"We will definitely go and offer prayers at temple's sanctum today," she added.
She hoped that trustees at Trimbakeshwar and Mahalaxmi temples in Nashik and Kolhapur respectively, too would take similar decision to end injustice against women devotees.
Desai said, "If a single man enters the sanctum other than pujari, the court orders have to be followed, everyone has to follow the order. The day has come today (when) we will enter the 'shani' platform."
"This is our victory. It was our will power that we will enter the core area...you all must have been seen women activists were manhandled. Despite the odds women came forward with all preparations and might. This is victory of Bhumata Brigade, of our movement. It is also victory of gender equality."
"Our fight has been going on for the past three-four months. We faced a lot of hurdles. We have been maligned, we were detained despite the court orders," Desai said.
On media's role in her campaign, she said, "Media has been with us and they also took a stand with us. This is media's win as well."
The debate over the issue escalated after a woman last year tried to enter and offer prayers at the Shani Shingnapur temple, in 'breach' of the age-old practice of prohibiting entry of women.
The agitation for women's entry gained momentum over the last few months, even as the temple authorities had later barred men also from entering the sanctum sanctorum.
The Shani Shingnapur temple had barred women for centuries from the inner sanctum that is dedicated to Shani, or Saturn. It is one of a handful of Hindu temples in the country that does not allow women entry.
The Bombay High Court had observed that women should have equal access to places of worship. "There is no law, which prevents women for having equal access from entering a temple. If men are allowed then women should also be allowed," the court had said.
With inputs from PTI